Vintage table setting
Vintage table setting courtesy of

As Easter dinner approaches it is a good idea to keep these tips on etiquette as found in the 1869 book “Good Manners; A Manual of Etiquette in Good Society” close at hand.

A few of the tips I found interesting. In this time period, etiquette advised to start eating as soon as you are “helped.” It’s interesting how these habits have changed. I’ve always been under the assumption that you wait to eat until everybody is served. Murphy’s Law always states that the slowest eater at the table (usually me) is served last. I’ll also have to try to remember not to “bend the head voraciously over the plate.” I don’t want to convey a “shocking want of good breeding,” right mom?

These are for your enjoyment and in the hopes that you become “a very expert fruit eater.” If there is ever one out there, I’d truly like to meet them!

The minor etiquette of the dinner-table must be at all times remembered. As soon as you are seated, remove your gloves, place your table-napkin across your knees, only partially unfolding it, and place your roll on the left side of your plate. As soon as you are helped, begin to eat: or if the viands are too hot, take up your knife and fork and appear to begin. To wait for others is not only old-fashioned but ill-bred. Never offer to pass on the plate to which you have been helped. The lady of the house who sends your plate to you is the best judge of precedence at her own table. In eating soup, remember always to take it from the side of the spoon and to make no sound in doing so. Soup and fish should never be partaken of a second time.

Whenever there is a servant to help you, never help yourself; when he is near, catch his eye and ask for what you want. Eating and drinking should always be done noiselessly

To drink a whole glassful at once, or drain a glass to the last drop, is inexpressibly vulgar.

Knife, fork, and spoon may be abused. It is needless, perhaps, to hint that the knife must never be carried to the mouth. Cheese must be eaten with a fork, as also peas, and most vegetables. Only puddings of a very soft kind, and liquids, require a spoon.

Bread is not to be bitten, but broken, never cut. Never dip a piece of bread into the gravy or preserves upon your plate, and then bite it; but if you wish to eat them together, break the bread into small pieces, and carry these to your mouth with your fork.

Mustard, salt, &c., should be put at the side of the plate, and one vegetable should never be heaped on the top of the other.

Always remember that a wine-glass is to be held by the stem and not the bowl, and that the plate must not be tilted on any occasion.

In eating, one should not bend the head voraciously over the plate, extend the elbows, or rattle the knife and fork; but transact all the business of the table quietly and gently. Use always the salt-spoon, sugartongs, and butter-knife; to use your own knife, spoon, or fingers, evinces a shocking want of good breeding.

Never put bones, or the seeds of fruit, upon the table-cloth. Put them upon the edge of your plate.

Anything like greediness or indecision is illbred. The choicest pieces are ignored; and you must not take up one piece and lay it down, in favor of another, or hesitate whether you will partake of the dish at all. It is gauche in the extreme not to know one’s own mind about trifles.

Silver fish-knives are found at the best dinnertables; but where there are none, a piece of crust should be taken in the left hand, and the fork in the right.

In eating asparagus, it is well to observe what others do, and act accordingly. The best plan is to break off the heads with the fork, and thus convey them to the mouth. In eating stonefruit, such as cherries, plums, &c., the same diversity of fashion prevails. Some put the stones out of the mouth into the spoon, and so convey them to the plate. Others cover the lips with the hand, drop the stones unseen into the palm, and so deposit them on the side of the plate. Very dainty feeders press out the stone with the fork, in the first instance, and thus get rid of the difficulty. This is the safest way for ladies.

Fruit is eaten with a silver knife and fork. A very expert fruit eater will so pare an orange as to lose none of the juice; but anything must be sacrificed rather than one’s good manners. Never use your knife but to cut your food. Your fork is intended to carry the food from your plate to your mouth. Never use your own knife or fork to help others.

At dinner parties ladies seldom eat cheese, or drink liquors, or take wine at dessert. Finger glasses containing water slightly warmed and perfumed are placed to each person at dessert. In these you dip your fingers, wiping them afterwards on your table-napkin. If the finger glass and d’oyley are placed on your dessert plate, you should remove the d’oyley to the left hand and place the finger-glass upon it.

The servants retire after handing round the dessert.

It is a foreign custom, and an excellent one, to serve coffee in the dining-room before the ladies retire; it puts an end to the prolonged wine-drinking, now so universally condemned by well-bred persons. When the ladies retire, the gentlemen rise, and the gentleman nearest the door holds it open for them to pass through. Never leave the table until the mistress of the house gives the signal.

Never put fruit or bon-bons in your pocket to carry them from the table. Do not eat so fast as to hurry the others, nor so slowly as to keep them waiting.

On leaving the table put your napkin on the table, but do not fold it. Offer your arm to the lady whom you escorted to the table.